Monday 14 May 2018

Top 10 Cards from 2008

Spectral ProcessionI thought this year might mark the calm before the storm,  a sort of lull before the power creep in dorks really went nuts. Not so much... While not a busted year it has some very strong cards and a lot of depth as well. This is actually the first year that finds creatures becoming the focus of my top 10 lists certainly in terms of those that attack! This implies that it was around this time that creatures were taken up a gear. I had always thought it was Zendikar block that marked the start of the marked power creep but seems that is a couple of years too late. Perhaps it is more to do with good all round cards with really high playability and less to do with raw power. Certainly the many well designed cards from this era feel like they have aged far better than most of the older cards and those of comparable ages. The year is made up of Shards of Alara, Eventide, Morningtide and Shadownmoor and is thus more sets than most previous years and is more new cards than any year previous too. Along with power creep this trend of more sets and cards has continued. In principle I like more cards as it is more chances on cool things but in reality I would just prefer a cleaner 3 or 4 releases a year with less than a thousand cards with less of the chaff cards reaching print! Here are some of those cards from this year I don't consider chaff before we got to those golden ten!

Chameleon Colossus

Spectral Procession
Dragon Fodder
Knight of the White Orchid
Ad Nauseam
Ajani Vengant
Tri (Shard) Lands
Bant Charm
Bloom Tender
Boggart Ram Gang
Chameleon Colossus
Countryside Crusher
Cruel Ultimatum
Curse Catcher
Tidehollow ScullerElvish Visionary
Esper Charm
Etherium Sculptor
Ethersworn Canonist
Fulminator Mage
Guttural Response
Heritage Druid
Master of Etherium
Mistveil Plains
Murderous Redcap
Murmuring Bosk
Nettle Sentinel
Oblivion Ring
Painter's Servant
Preeminent Captain
MutavaultRanger of Eos
Raven's Crime
Regal Force
Relic of Progenitus
Shard Volley
Sharuum the Hegemon
Slippery Boggle
Smash to Smithereens
Swans of Bryn Argoll
Sygg, River Cutthroat
Tezzeret the Seeker
Tidehollow Sculler
Wickerboug Elder
Wilt-Leaf Liege
Woodfall Primus
Wurm Harvest

Devoted Druid10. Devoted Druid

While this little two drop has nowhere near the power level in cube as he does in constructed he is none the less a solid little card. Two mana ramp effects have to be pretty impressive in green to make the cube and Druid lives up to the task. He is not quite so exotic as some of the alternatives but he more than makes up for that in reliability. You don't need to make land drops (Lotus Cobra) or have forests in play (Roffellos) for Druid to output mana as you do for the other two drops that ramp for more than one mana. You just slap Devoted Druid in your deck and he will do his job regardless of how the deck looks. The one off burst ramp for two that Druid gives you is incredibly potent. That one big hit of double ramp combined with the ongoing ramp for one gives you both a head start or later nitro boost as well as greater speed in the rest of the race! Spectral Procession likely has done more work over the years in cube than Druid but being so colour intense makes it one of the narrowest cards still in my cube so I gave the 10th spot to Druid (and have some regrets now that I am reviewing things).

Flickerwisp9.   Flickerwisp

This badboy has just remained a cube staple since release. The body is fine enough being relatively little mana for a decently high threat level card. The effect however is just so immensely useful that it pushes Flickerwisp to a pretty good spot. The list of things this regularly does is long but here goes; re-triggering an EtB effect on your own cards, untapping a land to gain an extra mana on your opponent's turn, giving a creature psuedo vigilance, killing a token, resetting planeswalker loyalties, preventing a creature from blocking, resetting a level up, evolve or otherwise growing on investment creature, unflipping flip cards, regaining control of stolen cards, refreshing depletion cards such as the new sagas, lowering a land count periodically to empower effects like Tithe, and possibly some more! Flickerwisp is a highly creative card as well as a nicely interactive one. It is a great example of good card design and leads to some great interactions.

Bitterblossom8.   Bitterblossom

I have never been a huge fan of this card. It has an aggressive lean and yet it is incredibly slow to take effect. A great tool against control decks but also a liability in some cases. I have seen people just die to their own Blossom with some comedy cards holding back the tide of Faeries. Architect of Thought is one of my favourite counters! Back in 2008 tempo was sufficiently low that Bitterblossom was just a solid card, overrated in cube but none the less a strong threat. Over time power creep made Bitterblossom weaker and narrower however changes to my cube design as well as emerging new archetypes have made up for that. More grinding midrange games, less combo, more general versatility in cards, and more things checking for card types have all wound up empowering Bitterblossom. It is strong in delirium decks and strong in Blood Artist decks while remaining an option in most black lists. Bitterblossom is a cheap source of ongoing value with plenty of archetype suitors for it.

Figure of Destiny7.   Figure of Destiny

This one drop used to be the hot sauce. He was pretty comfortably the best one drop beater ever made in magic at the time and was a huge boost to both aggressive red decks and white weenie decks. While Figure is still a great card he is not a high tempo one drop play, either costing you a single mana for a 1/1 or two mana for a 2/2. Both these stat lines are low tempo for their cost and make Figure more of a flex card than a pure aggro card that he once was. Figure pads out the one drops nicely while giving you more mid and late game. Being able to level up at instant speed makes Figure rather more complicated to play with and against than the level up dorks. It does lead to a more interesting card and goes a long way to offsetting the low tempo aspect of the card. Great design all round. A clever way of making a hybrid mana one drop not overly flexible in where it can be played like the next card. Figure has a great power level and is packed full of option density. I would love to see more creatures that can "level up" at instant speed.

Kitchen Finks6.   Kitchen Finks

Pretty mental this being in the bottom half of this list. Finks was easily one of the most powerful creatures in the game for a long old time. Finks was loads of tempo and loads of value. It hard countered red aggro and could be played by black green midrange decks or blue white control decks with ease. It was sufficiently aggressively statted that proactive beatdown decks would want to play it too. Finks was playable in every sense of the word, because of the hybrid mana, because it is tempo and value at the same time, because is good in most situations, in most decks and against most decks. Finks is even a part of a reasonable combo deck! Finks is still great but power creep has been mostly focused on creatures and so there are a lot of things now on a similar power level. A lot of those are more focused at what they do and can edge out Finks from lists he would once have been an auto include in. Finks now feels most like a card you use to hedge with if you feel weak to aggro or removal rather than something so good that you just play it. I like where it sits for power level relative to the rest of the cube now. Historically it was too good with its highly flexible hybrid cost, it had the power level of a real gold card such as Knight of the Reliquary.

Vendilion Clique5.   Vendilion Clique

Another three drop dork with three power to adorn this list. It would seem that power creep has set the lower bar somewhere a little before 2008 as this is where we are starting to see a more noticeable tick up in creature count. Clique is an all round great card a bit like the Finks and the Wisp. It is a pokey proactive threat, it is a useful disruptive tool and information gathering device and it can be used well in controlling reactive decks thanks to the flash. Clique is even a bit of a card quality dork with the emergency self targetting loot option when you are short on lands or are desperate for something. Clique has further parallels to the other three power three drops on the list. It is all about playability and they all have it. These three mana utility dorks bridge the gap with tempo and value, power and low cost and as such are all in the rare group of dorks you find in aggro, midrange and control builds. This is even more impressive when you consider how reasonable these cards seem in terms of power level relative to the cube. Well, that is the case now at least, Clique and Finks both seem rather over powered in 2008 and indeed outside of the eternal formats!

Negate4.   Negate

One of those classic hits and quite possibly one of the last of the really clean colour defining core cards. Negate is the balanced Counterspell. It is like all the solid but fair black removal. Deal with something for two mana but with a restriction that makes things interesting. I play Negate a lot, more than most other countermagic. It is less onerous that the universal hard counters like Force of Will, Cryptic and actual which all need much heavier blue commitments. Things like Remand, Mana Leak and other playable counters are a lot softer and less reliable than I would like. Negate is the perfect two colour deck counterspell. It is easy to cast and deals with all the non-creature things while the other colour your blue is paired with can deal with the creatures! It is a cheap hard counter and it stays that way. As I think the correct mana cost for actual Counterspell tuned for cube power is two and a half mana there is no clean and balanced "Counter target spell" card, they all need tweeks to be balanced. Due to this Negate is the poster boy for countermagic and blue. Negate is the bar by which other counters get compared, or at least it should be from a design perspective.

Glen Elendra Archmage3. Glen Elandra Archmage

A monstrous card and quite the counter to the previous Negate. I have lost several games to feeling safe with my Negate plus Doom Blade in any sort of fight over game winning spells and then they flop out a Glen and my well laid plans crumble. Glen utterly crushes control decks being one of the best tools against them. Obviously two Negates in one card is a big deal however it is much more than that. It is partly that Glen stalls the game while makes the small aerial beatdown offered meaningful. More than that it is having access to a pair of Negates at one mana a shot. That gives extreme control over any big turns or plays and even lets you be proactive. You can just start running stuff out knowing you have a couple of hard counters to respond to their answers. Glen is a fine card against most lists being, if nothing else,  a pretty reasonable blocker if needed against the aggro decks. Glen is quite like Mother of Runes in midrange games as well and generally forces a two for one in addition to some awkward plays. Glen locks down a lot of situations, a one to punch of Glen and planeswalker in whichever order is most appropriate will win a lot of games. Counter based trickery and flicker effects can provide even more lockdown brutality. Many a concession has been the result of a reset Glen!

Fire-Lit Thicket2.   Filter Lands

Really interesting and quite potent dual lands. Interesting in that they scale poorly with themselves and colourless producing lands. Interesting in that they provide not just a single fix but a double fix. In a deck with BB and WW cards to cast filter lands are your best fixer while in a deck with BW, BR and RW cards to play a filter land will be a liability for two of those. In the more general sense filter lands are comparable to the check lands in that they fix for two colours and typically produce useful mana immediately from turns two onwards. Filter lands can cast colourless things but not many decks have colourless one drops they actively want to make on turn one. The colourless component got a boost in utility with the Eldrazi cards from BfZ which is cute! Filter lands are one of the best cycles of dual lands in terms of power level and complexity. They have a much greater range on their potential performance than other lands while sitting in a good average spot that remains highly playable. I hope to see the rest of the one off duals from Time Spiral block done soon, or at least Burnwillows and Canopy! The others are more dubiously needed and a bit harder to balance in the case of River of Tears. You would need a cycle of 20 to do all variants of it as it is not symmetrical in how it treats the colours it fixes, like if you were to do a full cycle of the Tainted lands from Torment. .

Elspeth, Knight-Errant1.   Elspeth, Knight-Errant

In cube Knight-Errant reaches her full potential. In constructed she was decent but was rather outclassed by alternatives. In cube the different meta suits Elspeth perfectly and she is a force to be reckoned with. I am sure I have said it a lot but Elspeth is the reason I cut the power from my drafting cube initially. Everyone was just super board with Sol Ring, Mana Crypt and Black Lotus leading to turns one and two Elspeth. It was just so unrecoverable with there being little to no removal back then for planeswalkers. Obviously there was loads of reasons to ban the power but it was Elspeth that really brought those issues to peoples attention! In cube Elspeth is the king of planeswalker fights. If your planeswalker doesn't read "destroy target planeswalker" in some capacity then Elspeth is going to win that fight. Elspeth is one of very few walkers who can not only protect herself well with both blockers and high loyalty while also threatening so effectively. Elspeth can usually be played after someone else's planeswalker and instantly take it down by sending some little dork to the skies. Most planeswalkers are not good plays if there is already an Elspeth in play. Boards in cube get very cluttered and planeswalkers are common and powerful. Elspeth thrives in that environment. Certainly she is not as powerful as Jace the Mind Sculptor but she absolutely out performs him in cube. There is loads of counterplay to Jace, such as haste dorks, EtB triggers on dorks, just a couple of cheap dorks etc. There is very little counterplay to Elspeth. Either counter her or have direct removal like Dreadbore for her. Planeswalkers are a little hard to compare across the board these days with there being a pretty large disconnect between the 3 mana ones, the 4 mana ones and the 5 or more mana ones. For cube I have called Elspeth the best planeswalker since 2008 and I still mostly hold by that claim. I certainly still think she is the best of the 4 and 5 mana walkers on offer in cube although it is a close run thing. It is probable that the more polar cheap and expensive walker groups have a few in their ranks that have surpassed Elspeth in cube performance but as said, they are not directly comparable cards due to how and where you can play them. Another aspect of Elspeth's extreme cube power is that you can play her in any speed of deck. She is a great finisher threat for white weenie. She is an incredibly strong play for a midrange deck and she is also a pretty desirable walker in the control decks and this is all because she is so well able to play offense or defense as required and does so well. In control she works wonders with Wrath effects as without direct removal people are forced into over extending onto the board to try and take her down. Very much one of whites best cards in cube and a little underrated due to how much better she is in cube than in other formats.

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